“Art thou a pen, Whose task shall be
To drown in ink What writer’s think?
Oh, wisely write, That pages white
Be not the worse for ink and thee.”
~ Ethel Lynn Beers~
    For centuries writers have put pen to paper – or parchment – weaving their “webs of words” to enchant their audiences. I cannot speak for anyone else, but every once-in-a-while I have to get away from the computers, the tablets, the phones and put pen to paper; to let the ink flow. When it’s easier to paint pictures with words with the feel of my favorite “brush” in hand whispering softly across my writer’s canvas instead of the clack-clack of the keys beneath my fingertips. There is something about the journey an idea takes from knocking around in my head, down my arm and into my fingertips – whether the words flow in a gentle cursive or burst forth in a flurry of print and shorthand – and in that moment an idea can become a tangible thing. It is at those times that I find myself so completely immersed in the experience that the words and pages disappear. Almost as if the pen cradled between my fingers were but a vessel for an entity entirely of its own, the story reveals itself. I treasure those moments.

    Throughout time there has been much praise and homage paid to the virtues of the pen. One of the most familiar quotes being “The Pen is mightier than the Sword” coined around the year 1839, by English writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The quote comes from Act II, Scene II of his play Richelieu (liberally based on Cardinal Richelieu);

“True, This – Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanter’s wand! – itself a nothing! –
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the Ceasars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! – Take away the sword –
States can be saved without it.”

Famous playwrite William Shakespeare wrote in a similar vein in reference to the tool of the scribe in Act II, Scene II of his classic tragedy Hamlet:

“… many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequils.”

But it is not only classic writers who have commented on the worthiness of the hand written word and it’s instrument. Even in these modern times Irish author and journalist, Clare Boylan, noted this:

“Some writers have a personal love affair with particular pens. Others do not give a blot what comes to hand so long as it is stick-shaped, silent, and able to make its mark. I was surprised to discover about 70 percent of writers still write full manuscripts by hand.” – Clare Boylan

And it is in the spirit of this assertion that we continue on. Now, I happen to be one of those former writers that Clare Boylan mentions, and over the years my writing tool has changed. In this article I’m going to cover several tools that I have used over the years and why. Maybe it will help you find a favorite writing utensil, or maybe it will simply entertain you that a writer can be surprisingly neurotic about something so seemingly trivial.

A Penned Review

    When I first started writing my favorite writing companions were wide ruled notebooks and a #2 0.5mm side click pencil; originally it was a standard side-click Bic pencil but those disappeared over time and I found the Pentel Quicker Clicker Automatic Pencil– which to this day is still one of my favorites, especially for drawing and design layouts. The Pentel Quicker Clicker is perfect at 0.5mm, from writing to pencil sketches it’s smooth lead can be soft or bold. It’s latex-free grip keeps your fingers comfortable and your lines steady, keeping your hands from tiring out during those explosions of creativity.

    To complement my favorite pencils I may use the eraser tip for some little things, but typically I prefer to have a separate eraser. For that I use the Pentel Clic Eraser with Grip when drawing it gives me the best control and the soft white material doesn’t tear up the paper or leave any staining behind. These erasers never get dry, you can use them to lighten lines, turn smudges into finely crafted shading, or obliterate any record of that insane dialogue you came up with under the influence of those crazy cold meds.

    This is a scan of an image based on a picture of a friend, independent film producer Orian Williams that I did using these two tools. Writers sometimes need to draw as much as any other artist. I find sometimes an image will come into my head and I’ll sketch it out and then the story will come to me. Sometimes the flow or integrity of a scene requires some blocking to work out movements and interactions, with these two items and some graph paper the problem is usually solved fairly quickly. (Now-a-days blocking can be done by computer using design layout software but I personally prefer doing it by hand. Still, I may do an article on design layout software later on in this blog.)
    On occasion if I can’t find the Pentel Quicker Clicker I will happily use a Pentel Side FX Mechanical Pencil*. This nifty pencil features the same smooth lead and a side click feature as well as a twist up eraser tip. However this eraser tip though similar in material to the Pentel Clic Eraser it is a little difficult to use because of the twisting rim around it, and if you twist the eraser far enough out to use easily it is now weakened and likely to break. But I can use the same refills on lead for either so I usually have several of both laying around the house.
    Eventually though, my stories stopped fitting in wide ruled notebooks and with high school starting I switched to college ruled papers, and pens. From there it took years of trying dozens of brands and sizes to find my perfect pen. Along the way I found many worthy pens, capable and reliable. Personally I am very partial to the extra fine (0.5mm) line, though I know many that lean more toward the fine (0.7mm) or even the heavy (0.9mm to 1mm) line to give weight to their words. The problem I find with the heavy line classifications of pens is that you cannot make small notes in margins or in the space between lines. Now the 0.7mm still does fairly well for small writing and fine clear lines, but considering my notes tend to run the same size as 9pt print text – you can imagine why I favor the extra fine point. Their are benefits to heavier lines – to what I’ve seen, they lend themselves to those with not so steady handwriting or that print in large letters, the thicker lines are kinder to these type of styles. It has also been my observation that it is not uncommon for the look of what you’ve written to influence feelings towards a piece so this can be very important to have a writing utensil that you are not only comfortable with but confident in – so maybe it’s not as trivial as it seems. To follow are just a few of my favorite pens.
    The Pilot VBall*^ series is a very reliable set of pens and I loved having them at work; even at 0.5mm when I needed to fill out paperwork and needed bold, clearly visible text this was the pen to get the job done. However, eventually I did find that its liquid ink saturates most paper stock rather quickly, so if you write fast you’ll be fine and the result will be these beautifully unique lines that go from fine to thick like Chinese characters, but if you pause mid word or heaven-forbid mid letter and your pen is even lightly touching paper it will soak through to the next page (the larger the point the quicker and larger the soak through). Also if you write small or have a tendency to jot notes on your work – especially in cramped spaces – the lettering can become unintelligible. So while this is great pen for inking solid lines on drawings, filling out forms, or signing contracts I would not recommend this pen for those who like a widely versatile pen, or as an editing pen, or for those who tend to daydream or write in wee hours when the sandman may take you unexpectedly. One benefit to the liquid ink’s soaking tendency is when inking lines of a drawing you can increase or decrease your line’s weight simply by adding or removing pressure or slowing your movement across the paper (this can also benefit you if you like to hand write letters or cards for snail mail and like to bold words, it becomes a simple matter with this pen) – for this reason this pen still resides, albeit sparsely, in my pen collection. 
    If gel pens are more up your ally – and for quite a while they were for me – you’ll find the Pilot G2 Retractable*^ and the Pilot G2 Mini Retractable* gel pens a dream. They have a well portioned grip that adds extra comfort to its already ultra smooth glide. This pen does not have the quick soak problem that the liquid ink does but if you get fibers in your gel ink you can find blotchy lettering and smudges in your future. This pen is a lot more versatile then the Pilot VBall series in the way or writing and editing, but I would not recommend it for drawing, or if you carry your pen around where it can get hot. I noticed at home, or sitting in my messenger bag I never once had a problem with these pens leaking – yet at work once temperatures exceeded 87 degrees Fahrenheit the likelihood of finding leaked ink increased exponentially (the gel expands in the heat). This pen favors the indoor and cool climate writers, as well as the daydream and ‘dozers’ since the gel ink rarely makes marks from grazing.
    Ultimately, for me the perfect pen has to be the Pilot Precise V5 RT* – and as the many friends who have “borrowed” my pens and have “forgotten” to ever return them – it could very possibly become your favorite as well. Perfect in almost every situation this pen is the most versatile writing utensil I have ever encountered. It’s extra fine line can make legible notes in the tiniest pocket note pads and smallest spaces between text and still deliver strong lines for standard writing application. This pen can also ink fine, even lines in drawing situations. It has a very slow bleed rate, and it’s slightly shorter design makes it perfectly weighted for long writing situations, resting comfortably in any hand size. Add to this it can write on virtually any surface; gloss, matte, or flesh – for those of us who find it necessary to jot notes down immediately and don’t always have the moment or access to paper media. I love the way it glides over the paper, with a smooth and graceful line. It fits with ease in any pen slot, purse, elastic pen loop, or pocket (though unless you would like ink spots on your pockets, always remove ANY – even capped – pens from your pockets before sitting down). I keep at least one of these pens (usually two or three) on me at all times, and if I have only one unopened pack of two at home I know it’s time to stock up on more. This is not because the ink dries or runs out quickly, quite the opposite actually I’ve only had maybe one or two ever actually run out on me. Still as I mentioned before I have a hard time keeping possession of these pens. I don’t mind sharing this great tool so when someone borrows my pen and comments; “Wow what a great pen!” I can happily reply; “Go ahead keep it, I have another right here.”
The Others
    I know in reading my lists I may seem partial to specific brands – and I am in a lot of ways but that is not because I haven’t tried other brands. In the interest of not boring the ever-loving-daylights out of you I have skipped over going into detail about the pens that have not worked. And believe me you I have tried A LOT of pens; Zebra (tendency to collect fibers on the tip and clog), Paper Mate (their pencils used to be great but they’re not too comfortable, their pens like to leak), uni-ball (LEAK!). If you want inexpensive, fairly reliable pens and you don’t care what the aftermath looks like – nothing beats a Bic pen period. They either last forever or only for a few letters, and if you loose it you won’t cry over the price of replacing it, in fact you probably won’t even have to go to the store seeing as they come in rather large packs.
Now I don’t believe that you have to spend a ton of money on a zero-g pen that can write upside down, in space while simultaneously cooking dinner and training your dog to use the toilet. But a good pen is an essential tool. No matter the brand or weight the keys to a really good pen are this:

  • Comfort; Does it feel right in your hand? Is it the right size not to tire or cramp your hand? (this can be too heavy, too light, too big, too small)
  • Availability; Can you get this pen easily (either online or in a store) – if you can’t how likely are you to write with it?
  • Reliability; Does it write when and how you need it to? Does it work consistently?
  • Legibility; Can you read what you’ve written (as much as you typically can)? Does it improve your legibility?

I call him CARL.
Just kidding, but it’s a good way remember those four key elements.
Some Highlights
    I do want to take a moment before we come to a close to touch briefly on highlighters. If you do any editing or research you will want to be sure to have a highlighter that doesn’t leak or smudge. I recommend any of the highlighters from the Sharpie brand. Nothing is brighter than a Sharpie highlighter, making it easy to define points that need to standout with these tools.
    Typically I’ll use one or maybe two colors for most standard editing and research situations. For these purposes I prefer to use Sharpie Accent Pocket-Style Highlighters in Yellow or the Pink Ribbon – which in addition to being a good pen helps support breast cancer research.
    However when I’m doing extensive research or editing I find it very helpful to have several different colors. This helps create easily recognizable visual cues for later finding and identifying specific notations. For this situation I suggest the Sharpie Retractable highlighter in either the “5 Colors” or “8 Colors” packs depending on your notation needs. These long lasting highlighters will survive the most arduous of editing sessions and their operation is simple – click, use, click. The click top helps to eliminate the two main problems with using multiple pens during any writing, editing, or research project; drying out and keeping track of caps.
    I hope this article was informative and gave you a leg up on finding the writing tool for you. I’d like to close by citing Master Wace, a Norman poet who lived in the early part of the 12th century:

“It is the pen [that] gives immortality to men.”

    I encourage every writer to find their favorite pen. – Even if you only use it to fill out paperwork (or maybe, hopefully, sign a lucrative contract).


    I chose to link to the Walmart site because it’s the most common place to find most of these items in stock both online and in the store, where as most of these products are typically only available online at places like Office Depot.

* – These items are also available in multiple size points (0.5mm, 0.7mm, 1mm) and multiple colors (ex. blue, red, purple, green)

^ – These links are for packs of 12 but there are 2 and 4 packs available online and in stores, but if you’re gonna order online you might as well stock up.